A man with a seriously scraggly beard pulls at the bandana on his head, looks around vaguely, a pronouncement forming in his head. He says, “I don’t know any redneck that ain’t into fun. That’s their middle name. Red-fun-neck.”
He’s some redneck. He’s rich and successful, unconcerned about much apart from the business of making and sell duck calls, goofin’ off and having his family close by. He’s famous, a compelling figure on a TV show watched by millions. How he got here doesn’t bother him much. Money in the bank for being yourself – that’s all it is.
The rise of redneck culture snuck up on us. Then along came Honey Boo Boo and her outrageously cheerful, couch-bound, junk-food-consuming family who rarely move but do scamper outside when there’s an opportunity to enjoy playing in mud.
Oh, there were sneers. There were calls for June Thompson, matriarch of the clan that spawned the little live wire Honey Boo Boo, to be given instructions in diet and exercise. Some people wanted her arrested. But both a cabal of critics and the viewing audience recognized a startling authenticity in Here Comes Honey Boo Boo and the show’s inherent rebuttal of bourgeois-centric network TV comedy and drama. See, the Thompsons are both happy and real.
The redneck thing is red-hot. Soon, I suspect, Wolf Blitzer will be heard on CNN, in the midst of The Situation Room’s rumble, announcing that he’s turning for analysis to CNN’s Senior Redneck Correspondent.
Duck Dynasty (A&E, 10 p.m.) returns tonight and it is an anchor of the redneck marvel that is thriving on cable TV in the United States. The affability of the show is striking. Darn little happens. But every now and then, someone will say something like this: “If you catch squirrels for your woman, she will never cut you off in bed.”
The use of “dynasty” in the show title, though, gives a clue as to what is going on here. Dynasty was one if those 1980s prime-time soaps that celebrated the appalling machinations of people in both the old-money and nouveau riche categories. Mansions, vulgar displays of wealth and a penchant for backstabbing. That sort of thing.
Duck Dynasty is the anti-Dynasty. It documents the daily lives of the Robertson family, a posse that became rich from sales of their duck-call devices, the most famous being the Duck Commander. They’s all happy living there in the backwoods of Monroe, La. At the centre you’re meant to find Willie Jess Robertson, who took the family’s duck-call business from small-time local craft to a big-business empire selling everything from hunting gear to marinades. But the true core of the show is his dad Phil Robertson, who made the original Duck Commander and created the family business in the 1970s.
There’s a passel of uncles, sons, daughters, wives and assorted yokels who work at the surreally laid-back production centre. Most of the men have scraggly beards and wear some sort of hunting gear. Not one of them is concerned about Banana Republic’s Big Three Fall Trends For Men.
Tonight’s opening show of the second season concerns two things: dating on the river while fishing, and teaching Sadie, who is Willie’s daughter, how to drive. That’s about it. The date on the river features two awkward-looking teens and a codger who chaperones them to make sure they’re not getting up to having sex and suchlike. “Better a good day’s catch of fish than a lifetime of crabs,” he remarks.
Teaching Sadie how to drive essentially means one guy instructing her in a parking lot while a Greek chorus of bearded guys sits on a nearby wall and offers commentary. Then various members of the family take turns at coaching Sadie. Then everybody has supper and the show is over.
The show is not just the anti-Dynasty, it’s the anti-Kardashians. And the redneck phenomenon could be read as another aspect of anti-intellectualism in U.S. culture. Fair enough, but before reading too deeply into the phenom, there’s the matter of its appeal as entertainment. Nobody’s watching these shows for the information and insight they contain.
Duck Dynasty and Here Comes Honey Boo Boo click with viewers because too much mainstream TV relies on formulaic, static storytelling. The playfulness of these redneck shows serves to underline how limited are the tropes of network sitcoms and dramas. Even the language of the Honey Boo Boo and the Duck Dynasty crowd is invigorating. The colourful vernacular is vastly more entertaining than what most top sitcom writers can create. And everybody’s into that kind of fun.
All times ET. Check local listings.